Tuesday, 11 September 2012

What a way to go

The dictionary definition of 'Go to seed' is 'to decline in looks, status, or utility due to lack of care'. Yet as the summer goes to seed, I don't see that at all.

For plants, going to seed is the apex of their existence, reproduction their reason for being. Everywhere I look now I see plants at the height of their maturity and glory. The colours and textures of their seeds are if anything more vibrant than the flowers that preceded them. Rose bay willowherb is swapping its tarty, lipstick-pink skirt for a white feather boa. The rowans are weighed down with bunches of satiny berries, shockingly scarlet against the fading green of their leaves. And those deep russet spires of sheep sorrel stand tall and proud among the bleaching grasses. I want to go to seed like that!

Not everything is there yet, of course. The meadow is still full of black knapweed - a strange name for a purple flower. One of the latest plants to flower in the meadow, its thistly flowerheads are a magnet for insects once many of the other plants have turned into bird food.

Today in the sunshine there were several peacock butterflies enjoying its late nectar, fattening themselves up for hibernation. Once a scarce visitor to these parts, peacock numbers have been increasing in central Scotland, a rise that has been linked with climate change. Apparently their numbers often increase after a cool, wet summer, as the nettles that are their caterpillar food plant grow lush and tall. If so I'm surprised we haven't had a population explosion here this year.

Despite being related to the thistles, the seedheads of the black knapweed don't turn into the shocks of white down of their spikier cousins. Hardheads is their other common name, and described the small, dark brown, acorn shaped seedheads that follow the flowers. Children often used them as ammunition - wrapping the stalk around the base of the head and shooting them at their friends. I hope some still do. Perhaps that's where the term 'gone to seed' came from.

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